In this hub, I'll be critiquing Raquel Willis's assessment of Chimamanda Adichie's words and elaborating on what womanhood and feminism entail.
Last March author Chimamanda Adichie got into hot water with the queer community. In an interview, Adichie was asked "Does it matter at how you arrived being a woman? I mean, for example, if you're a trans woman who grew up identifying as a man, who grew up enjoying the privileges of a man, does that take away from becoming a woman? Are you any less of a real woman?" When Adichie responded that trans women are trans women and they don't have the same experience as someone born in the world as female, trans women and activists caused an uproar on blogs and vlogs alike. The self-proclaimed media maven and trans woman, Raquel Willis, in particular responded with an article titled Trans Women Are Women. This Isn't a Debate.
At the top of Willis's article shows a composite of seven trans woman who had been killed in 2017. Willis starts by heralding Adichie's work and being inspired by "seeing another black women so unapologetically claim the feminist label and being willing to discuss it publicly" before disagreeing with Adichie's take on womanhood and labeling mainstream feminists as transmisogynistic. Willis fails to cite who these feminists are and further claims that Adichie "stripped trans women of their womanhood." Willis affirms that trans women are women and by saying they are otherwise is somehow "othering" them from womanhood.
I, for one, am a woman, an adult human female. I'm not a cis woman, because the prefix is redundant and unnecessary. It's like calling black women non-white. I don't need to over complicate the definition of a word that already has a specific meaning. I was born and socialized in this world according to my birth sex. And specifically speaking to Willis's aforementioned statement, I went through puberty as a human female. I experienced girlhood and live through womanhood. Womanhood can't be achieved without having been a girl first. Willis was born a human male and has XY chromosomes. Estrogen shots and surgery don't change that fact. An effeminate boy doesn't get to bypass girlhood and jump straight into womanhood. Womanhood is by birth. If trans women were women, they wouldn't need to transition.
Willis goes on to suggests that trans women "are a type of woman, just as women of color, disabled women and Christian women are types of women." Willis's comparison actually invalidates and contradicts the whole argument being made. There's only one kind of woman - an adult human female. Human females don't need to transition to females; it doesn't matter where they live, what physical handicaps they have, what religion they practice, or what color they are. It would be like saying a daffodil is a "different type" of rose. Or that a pickup trick is a "different type" of luxury car. Yes, a daffodil is a flower, but a distinct one. No matter what changes it undergoes, it won't ever be a rose. Yes, a pickup truck is a car, but it holds a distinct physical composition from a luxury car. It, too, will never be a luxury car.
What also makes Willis's logic insidious and absurd is that it takes away the unique identity of women and womanhood. He implies that a male-born person-- and perhaps one who has undergone puberty, been raised as a boy, and lived their life as a man-- can change their name and physicality and be inducted into womanhood just like that. Everything I noted was Adichie's point - someone who has been afforded the privileges as a male in society hasn't had first-hand experience with being born in a female body. It doesn't matter if they're effeminate males or not, it doesn't mean they're women, because they don't embody hypermasculinity. Willis, like other trans activists and people, reduce womanhood to a mere fashion accessory to be tried on and taken off. It turns the substance of womanhood into a costume. Further along, Willis's tone shifts into a paternalistic one, the kind men often use when they feel a woman needs to be corrected or is misunderstood. Willis once again uses a false comparison. He claims that women not accepting trans women as women is the same equivalent as white womanhood being the narrative of all women. According to Willis, "Just as it was wrong for womanhood to be narrowly defined within the hegemonic white woman’s experience, so, too, is it wrong for womanhood to be defined as the hegemonic cisgender woman’s experience. Cis women may be the majority, but that hardly means their experience the only valid one."
If we put together the aforementioned information, Willis has established that trans women are women, that transmisogyny is potent with feminists, and now biological males should be included in the narrative of womanhood. Trans women are born male, so they can't be women if that's what they're transitioning to. If trans women were women, there is no such thing as transmisogyny. Willis is trying to have this argument both ways, which is actually misogynistic. A born male who reinforces sex-specific stereotypes is "educating" a woman on what being a woman is and what womanhood should entail. Not only that, but is able to brainwash women into thinking trans women are the victims and doing no harm, but that actual feminists are. Until Adichie was asked about trans women, most people who disagreed with what she said had never heard of her. Willis was even a firm supporter of her work. Adichie might now be remembered for her remarks that inflamed trans women than her academic and professional endeavors. So unless one fails to agree with trans ideologies or adhere to their agenda, they're labeled transphobic, TERFs, or bigots and are crucified in the court of public opinion.
Another area where Willis intentionally manipulates Adichie's point is when he cites that Adichie is uniformed about womanhood because she said it's "about the way the world treats us." Adding on to that, Willis believes defining womanhood by oppression helps patriarchy. Clearly estrogen shots and surgery doesn't erase the misogyny Willis holds. Telling women to not share experiences of oppression in order to heal one another, to combat the problem, or to empower one another are things men would think and say. It's a sexist, sweeping generalization of what a man thinks would be effective for women. Advocating that women be silent about grievances does work with patriarchy.
On the flip side, Willis simultaneously believes that Adichie implied that trans women don't experience sexual harassment or invalidation by men and that it's the "Oppression Olympics" at play. I'm unsure if Willis means men invalidate his identity as a "woman" or if men don't see him as a woman when he's sexually harassed. However, being sexual harassed and "invalidated by men" aren't the only obstacles women endure in a male controlled society. In Willis's own way, he holds the perception that those are the only two things women endure that make them women and oppressed. Willis mentions nothing about the stigmas of abortions, surrounding birth control, or what girls are taught. Willis was never a girl, never endured girlhood, and has a rather shallow definition of what womanhood means. Instead of trying to modify womanhood and feminism, Willis missed a big a opportunity in critiquing patriarchy and masculinity.
Something that often gets undermined in the name of ignorance is male privilege and whether or not trans women have it. Willis writes of male privilege as if it's something that can be purchased and returned when unsatisfied. He states that "trans women are not perceived as women for a portion of our lives. This, however, does not mean that we are afforded the experience of men." That couldn't be more inaccurate. Trans women are born male as I've previously mentioned. Male privilege, much like womanhood, is by birth. It's invisible, but it's there and collective. Simply because many trans women were boys who didn't share stereotypical interests or attitudes of their sex, doesn't mean they were girls. Some trans women seem to be under the impression that a boy liking to wear dresses, doing makeup, and wearing heels makes him a girl. Those traits reinforce sex-specific stereotypes of women, which are sexist in and of themselves. The fact that males can apply those attributes, call themselves women, and respond with aggression when questioned about this issue is male privilege. When trans women rally enough cries to get lectures by feminists and plays by women canceled for not being inclusive, that's privilege. When trans women convince women that feminists have done more damage than progress, that's privilege. Trans women being able to convince women and the general public that they're in deed women, that's privilege. Trans women being able to garner sympathy from women about their plight and hijack feminism, that's privilege. Trans women using sexual epithets towards women to get their way, that's privilege.
Willis ends the article on a rather egotistical note saying that trans women don't owe anyone this sort of dialogue, but that feminism isn't true feminism without trans women. Considering Willis responded to a video with some intention of sparking controversy or flexing his clout and published it in a public domain is an indirect conversation. If he didn't want anyone to respond, he wouldn't have said anything.
Lastly, feminism is and has always been about the social, economic, and political advances of women. Intersectionality, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, was meant to include the different degrees in which black women are oppressed ( i.e. poor black women, black lesbians, or black educated women). Inclusivity in feminism doesn't mean championing for anyone who isn't a woman, but that doesn't mean causing hurt to them either. And, unfortunately, too many modern women are hurting our cause by repaving the foundation with misogyny.
- CDC: Half Of All Female Homicide Victims Are Killed By Intimate Partners : The Two-Way : NPR
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that black women and indigenous women are killed, in general, at higher rates than other races.
- Trans Women Are Women. This Isn’t a Debate.
Nigerian writer and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been a favorite of mine since I first saw her “We Should All Be Feminists” speech. It was just a few months shy of Beyoncé’s release of her iconic anthem “***Flawless,” which heavily sampled A
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